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FAA, Santa Clara County agree to invest in airports' future

Reid-Hillview, San Martin safety improvements on the way

In a February 8 memorandum between the FAA and Santa Clara County, California, the parties agreed that the county would address several longstanding issues impacting safety and neglect at Reid-Hillview and San Martin airports. In turn, the FAA agreed to hold its investigation in abeyance for six months while the airport works to address those issues.

An aerial view of Reid Hillview Airport in San Jose, California. Image courtesy of The 111th Group Inc.

The February 8 memo stems from a complaint the FAA issued against the county in late 2021 under the FAR Part 13 regulation governing FAA enforcement of federal airport requirements, citing the county's “failure to address a significant number of significant safety concerns” at airports operated by the county. In more than a year since the FAA initiated that enforcement, the county has taken no action to mitigate these longstanding defects. The new memorandum gives the county 60 days to develop an action plan to “meet the parties’ common goal of operating the County Airports in a safe condition.”

“It appears that Santa Clara County officials have finally agreed they are not following FAA safety rules, and are now willing to help the airport meet its required obligations and prepare the airport for the future, which will include unleaded aviation gasoline,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “It’s just unfortunate that it has come to this. While no compromise is perfect, this agreement seems to indicate that resources will finally be spent to improve safety at these airports.”

The memo does not address the complaint AOPA filed in 2022 under a different regulation (Part 16) that provides third parties a procedure to initiate FAA enforcement of regulatory requirements. AOPA acted on behalf of local pilots and airport businesses affected by the county’s action to prohibit the sale of 100LL fuel at Reid-Hillview and San Martin airports. The February 8 memorandum does not extend the county’s February 28 deadline to file a response to AOPA’s complaint, and the FAA will ultimately decide whether the fuel prohibition violates federal rules. Local pilots cited a fuel-exhaustion accident they believe is related to a lack of appropriate fuel at Reid-Hillview. The county’s ban on 100LL also increases the potential for misfuelling, which has been reported to have occurred, and can cause catastrophic engine failure.

Although the new memorandum in the Part 13 case did not outline details of a potential cooperative demonstration project to advance the effort to reduce aircraft lead emissions nationally, it does open the door for the use of a portion of available FAA funds to conduct an unleaded fuel monitoring program at Reid-Hillview. AOPA has been advocating for this type of program for some time, as it could expedite the national transition to unleaded fuel. In September, the FAA approved supplemental type certificates for a 100-octane unleaded fuel developed by General Aviation Modifications Inc. of Ada, Oklahoma, which can be used safely in nearly every engine in the piston aviation fleet. The company is currently working to commercialize its fuel.

In addition, Cirrus Aircraft, a well-respected aircraft manufacturer, has been evaluating GAMI unleaded fuel in its aircraft with very positive results. Swift Fuels, of West Lafayette, Indiana, provides a 94-octane unleaded fuel to some airports in California and in other states, but this lower-octane fuel cannot be used by a large number of piston engine aircraft in the fleet. The company is also working on producing a 100-octane unleaded fuel and anticipates FAA approval this year.

Alyssa J. Miller
Eric Blinderman
Senior Director of Communications
Eric Blinderman is AOPA’s Senior Director of Communications. Eric joined AOPA in 2020 after several years at leading marketing/communications agencies in New York and is looking forward to putting his newly minted private pilot certificate to work.
Topics: Advocacy, Avgas, Airport Advocacy

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